When I left my job in June 2019, I packed up some books I owned that I had kept in my office. One was Joel Whitburn Presents A Century of Pop Music. It is a “Year-by-Year Top 40 Rankings of the Songs & Artists that Shaped a Century.”
The book was “compiled from America’s Popular Music Charts, Surveys and Records Listings 1900-1939 and Billboard’s Top Pop Singles Charts, 1940-1999.” For each year except 1900, it lists the forty top-ranked songs. There were only thirty that first year.
Those early rankings were complicated, drawing data from The Talking Machine World periodical, record label publications, and books by David Ewen, Jim Walsh, Roger Kinkle, and Joseph Murrells.
The hits of 1900-1909 included male quartets, parlor ballads, minstrels songs, ragtime, comedy, and brass bands. George M. Cohen and Billy Murray were particularly popular.
The next section lists all of the artists. What I like is that it combines information I had in other books covering shorter time spans. For instance, Frank Sinatra had 17 Top Ten records from 1943’s You’ll Never Know (#2) to Something Stupid, with his daughter Nancy, #1 for four weeks in 1967.
The list of songs includes every version to hit the Top 10. For instance, for Alexander’s Ragtime Band, the version by Arthur Collins and Byron Harlan hit #1 in 1911. Billy Murray’s version’s got to #2 the same year. That sort of thing happened a lot in the first half-century.
The Prince’s Orchestra version went to #3 (1912) and the Victory Military Band to #4 (1912). Bing Crosby and Connie Boswell returned the song to #1 for two weeks (1938).
As far as I can tell, the book is out of print. You can find a used copy on Amazon for as little as $12.74 from a vendor.
The #1 hits of 1900
When You Were Sweet Sixteen – George J. Gaskin. I couldn’t find Gaskin’s version, but here’s a take by Harry Macdonough (1901). Listen to Gaskin singing After the Ball (1893), The Irish tenor was “one of the first vocalists to make a recording with Edison Records.”
Ma Tiger Lily- Arthur Collins. The recordings I found all refer to February 1901. Most of them are indecipherable. This is the best. Not incidentally, the lyrics are quite racist. Collins had 64 top Ten songs by 1918.
When You Were Sweet Sixteen – Jere Mahoney; couldn’t find.
A Bird in a Gilded Cage – Jere Mahoney
Ma Tiger Lily- Len Spencer. The audio I found was particularly awful.
Because – Haydn Quartet, 33 Top Ten hits through 1913, but I couldn’t find this.
When Cloe Sings a Song – George J. Gaskin. This is a much later version, with black patois and a word not acceptable these days.